You’ve read the headlines: Apple’s most beloved MacBook Air is finally back with a new update.
Unveiled at the Cupertino giant’s annual WWDC event, Apple’s best-selling laptop is now just 11.3mm thin and weighs just 2.7 pounds. It’s also the first Mac to contain the fastest M2 chip with a 40% faster neural engine, it’s 25% brighter, and everyone is very excited about it for a variety of other reasons.
But two major hardware improvements went unrecognized, and we think certain people might care – and not just rock legend Neil Young.
For the audiophile, the latest MacBook Air’s two biggest draws are support for Apple Music’s proprietary, immersive spatial audio from the new Air’s built-in speakers, plus – and this is critical – a headphone jack. 3.5mm improved earphone that now supports high impedance headphones.
Why is the new headset important?
First, we need to talk about the best high-impedance headphones, aka some of the top audiophile cans on the market. Because? They typically use a much thinner voice coil in their drivers and therefore can be wound without as much air between the individual wires.
When done right, this results in less sound distortion and better, faster bass reproduction.
So should we all go out and buy some high-impedance headphones then? Well, the downside to all that precision and clarity is that it makes these particular beasts a lot harder to steer.
To clarify, impedance is a measure of resistance to electrical current, measured in ohms: the higher the value, the more resistance there is. Low impedance headphones are generally considered to have an impedance of less than 50 ohms. High-impedance headphones, on the other hand, can be 250 or even 600 ohms.
Now the amplifier in a typical smartphone is designed with standard 32 ohm headphones in mind. So simply connecting high impedance headphones into your average laptop’s headphone jack will result in poor sound quality – and all that investment will be wasted on poor impedance matching.
To get the most out of high-impedance headphones using a MacBook Air as a source, you would also need a dedicated headphone amplifier. Until (possibly) now.
While Apple hasn’t given any concrete specs for the connector other than the happy phrase, “There’s also a headset with support for high-impedance headphones,” it still bodes well.
Spatial audio support from MacBook Air built-in speakers
When Neil Young Criticized the MacBook Pro’s “Fisher-Price” Sound Quality in 2020 interview with The Verge (opens in new tab), he called “a crap, are you kidding?” adding: “You can’t take anything out of this thing. If you put it on, you can’t take it off because the DAC is not good on the MacBook Pro.”
Now whether or not the DAC has been changed here remains to be seen, but certainly the new MacBook Air’s speakers have been tuned to support Apple Music’s stunning proprietary immersive spatial audio.
At the time of his interview a few years ago, Pono creator and advocate for high-quality audio streams Young was at least open-minded about Apple products going forward, saying, “When quality comes back, I’ll give another look. Never say never.”
Just a suggestion, but maybe now is the time for Mr. Young take another look? He might even find himself saying “Hey, hey, my, my”…